Qualifying a Sprint Cup car for the first time at Pocono Raceway is a daunting task for a rookie driver like Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion. The level of difficulty ratcheted up even more on Friday when Blaney got just one lap of practice in a rain-shortened session.
Blaney’s lone practice lap was just 26th fastest, with a speed of 172.854 miles per hour.
His next lap on the track was in the opening round of qualifying, and he posted the seventh best speed of 179.379 mph.
Then he ran the exact same speed in the second round, which put him starting 14th in Sunday’s Axalta 400.
Blaney told reporters after qualifying that even though his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion was a little tight in the second round of qualifying he was pleased with the way he and the team adapted to a difficult situation.
“I thought we made good gains from the first run to the second run in the first round,” he said. “It just wasn’t where we needed it in the second round.
“The guys did a great job for only having one lap of practice. They did really good at getting the car better and bearing with me.”
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said Blaney did a tremendous job given his lack of experience in a Sprint Cup car at Pocono, which is known as the Tricky Triangle for good reason.
“I know Ryan won a race here in the Camping World Truck Series, but driving a Sprint Cup car here is entirely different,” Wood said. “He’s never shifted gears here at speed, and there’s a lot of difference in the power of the trucks and the Cup cars.
“To do what he did here with just four laps total is pretty impressive.”
With the rains that cut practice short on Friday set to clear out Saturday morning, Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team are hopeful of getting the rookie driver more laps on the track so he can adapt to the unique layout.
“I still have a lot of work to do here,” Blaney said. “That is something I need to work on, but hopefully we get some practice tomorrow and we will be able to do that.”
Wood said that although the forecast is clear for Saturday and showing rain for Sunday, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach to the weekend.
“I’ve seen it rain here when it wasn’t supposed to rain and be clear when it was supposed to rain,” he said. “I know the weather data today is really good, but up here in the Pocono Mountains you never know what it will do.”
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